November 30, 2011

help! I'm being micromanaged!

If you have been micromanaged in the past, you will know very well what this looks (and feels) like. But for those of us who would like to diagnose our current situation at work, here are some signs that you are indeed dealing with a micromanager:
  • They resist delegating tasks
  • They become intensely involved in every aspect of a project
  • They enjoy correcting small details of your work more than evaluating the overall outcome
  • They sometimes take back an assignment from you if they find a mistake in your work
  • They find it hard to let others make decisions without them

If you have experienced being managed like this, I'm sure you know how frustrating and demoralising it can be. It might make you feel paralysed, or constantly craving for your manager to trust you more. Being micromanaged may also limit your performance if you are never given some free reign when approaching a project. I can only imagine how hard this must be for the creative souls among us!

So what can you do from your side to work on changing this pattern in your relationship with your manager? Here are a few thoughts:
  • When a new idea or issue arises, make sure you gather as much info as possible on the topic, and instead of waiting for your assignment, pitch a suggestion for how you would approach it if it were your project. Mention that you would love to give it a try (a micromanager usually thinks he is the only one capable of coming up with a detailed plan).
  • Create/design a project you feel really confident to tackle on your own. Ask if you can coordinate it in an effort to show your project management skills. If all goes well, this will not only boost your confidence, but also your manager's openness to delegating.
  • Instead of waiting for your manager to ask for updates, schedule a regular time slot in your week to update him on your progress. Remember to add lots of details to show that you have thought of everything. This way he'll see that you are proactive and capable of managing the timeline of the project.
  • Be patient and try one experiment at a time. See this as a challenge in your career instead of an excuse to stagnate. It will require some initiative and planning from your side, but it will be worth the effort. 

Remember that your manager is also human, and probably has a reason of some kind for doing things this way. Trying to change the patterns in your relationship is a more realistic (and respectful) goal than trying to change the person. Check out these posts I found on why people micromanage and how to stop being micromanaged.

November 28, 2011

communication at the office

Happy Monday everyone!!

This week we're starting with a new series called performance pointers. Each week I'll gather a selection of useful links on a specific topic to help you "up" your game at work, one theme at a time.

To kick things off, this week's pointers will focus on communication at work. We're always talking and sending emails, but are we really communicating effectively? Have a look and see if you can identify just one thing you can do to improve your communication at work this week:

November 25, 2011

freshen up your desk space!

I am no neat freak, but I do know that I work faster and more focused when my desk is organised. Also, if you take a moment to consider how dirty your desk space actually gets after a while, you might want to think about cleaning it more often (even if just for the sake of your personal hygiene and health).

Here are some tips to keep your office neat:
  • To print or not to print - One of the biggest contributors to office clutter is the unnecessary paperwork lying around. With every electronic file you come across, take a second to decide if you need a hard copy. Not only will we save trees by saving paper, but you might be saving yourself from death by paper cuts!
  • Expiring the filing - Is every file on your shelf or in your cabinet still relevant? Are you required by law to keep them a certain number of yours? If your answer is no, it might be time for a (very therapeutic) shredding session.
  • Walk the walk - If your printer is set up right next to you on your desk, you might be quick to hit the print button. But if you try using the communal printer or setting yours up in a different spot, walking the distance each time might help you to think twice before going on a printing spree!
  • Purging power - Pick a date every month and set aside an hour or so to get rid of anything and everything that is contributing to your clutter. Old documents, things that belong at home or on someone else's desk.
  • Taming the teddies - Sure, you get sweet little gifts or tokens from colleagues on your birthday. Maybe you love displaying your child's latest clay sculpture on your desk? Depending on the size of your desk or cubicle, you might want to evaluate the amount of space these personal items are taking up. Also, the way you "decorate" your workspace contributes to your personal brand at work, which is something you always want to keep in the back of your mind.
  • Effortless eating - Preventing a mess is easier than cleaning it up. Obviously it's ideal to eat your lunch away from your desk, but if for some reason you have no choice, try sliding over to a different corner of your desk. You can also flip over your keyboard and put down a paper towel to catch any crumbs. Be sure to wipe/disinfect surfaces now and then if you don't have a cleaning service at the office doing it for you.

We spend so much time at our desks, why not use it as another opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism by putting some effort into its appearance and appeal. I found this cool article on organization for the office - enjoy!

November 23, 2011


Many of us attend (or lead) meetings on a regular basis. Sometimes they run smoothly and other times things spin out of control into a clumsy mess. Here are some short tips to help you stay focused, professional and effective in meetings.

November 21, 2011

sure you want to talk office politics on facebook?

A reader asks:

Dear Wannabe|Employee,
Some of my colleagues at work are also my Facebook friends. I don't think this is an issue, but when they start talking office politics or complaining about their bosses in their posts I do feel that they are being inappropriate. Is it OK to talk shop on personal sites when you know colleagues can view your comments? Should I not be adding colleagues as friends at all?

Excellent question! There are various outlooks on this topic, so in stead of giving you a list of do's and dont's, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I really want to mix business with pleasure?: In order to avoid this ambiguity, I have decided to spare myself the confusion and separate the two. I add personal contacts on Facebook and professional contacts on LinkedIn. There is no rule against mixing the two, but separating my contact groups is the easiest way for me to avoid this dilemma in the first place.
  • What is the message I'm sending?: Like I mentioned in a previous post, everything you do and say affects your personal brand either positively or negatively. If you are polite in the office, but everyone can see your accusing and rude comments online, do you think people view you as someone with integrity? You might be giving everyone the impression that you are just another average employee who enjoys complaining about their job, so why not use Facebook as yet another way of building your reputation and posting things that show your positive attitude and strong character?
  • What if my friend becomes my manager?: The reality is that things can change at any time in your organisation, and your friend may end up being your boss. Do you think he will trust you with sensitive information if he knows you love online office gossip? Do you think he will recommend you for promotions? Any negative thing you say about your employer online becomes reason for him to doubt your loyalty to the company.
  • Looking like a coward?: Let's face it, complaining about your boss or organisation online (behind their backs) instead of being part of the solution will send the message that you are someone who is quick to throw stones and not interested in taking positive action. It won't get you fired but it does show that you are not interested in making a difference or handling issues head-on.
  • Should I just delete all my colleagues as Facebook friends?: I'm sure it will come across as being insensitive if you just delete them all, but letting them know that you're making an effort to move all your professional contacts from Facebook to LinkedIn may be received positively by some. If you have good friends at work you would like to keep as Facebook friends, have you considered adding them to a "colleagues" group that you can hide selected posts from? This means screening each comment or photo album before sharing, but if you're willing to spend the extra seconds each time you post, this might be your best alternative.

This is something we could talk about for hours. In the end something as casual as Facebook is a way of communicating your values. Regardless of who you share with, your comments will always influence the way people perceive you and the level to which they respect you, even in a personal capacity.

What are your thoughts on this? Check out some other related posts:

November 18, 2011

help! my boss is a bully!

A reader asks:
Dear Wannabe|Employee,
My boss is very unpredictable and emotional, we never know which version we're going to get when a new day starts at the office. He changes his mind about what we need to do every day (or sometimes every few hours), leaving us a little clueless and stressed because we're afraid to approach him with questions. Sometimes he is even unhappy when we give him exactly what he asked for. He throws big tantrums and always makes us feel like it's our fault. I don't expect him to be perfect, but because this happens so often it's becoming a problem for our whole team.  How do we deal with this?
Wow, I'm sure many of us have had a bad experience with a boss or manager similar to this. There is no easy answer, but here are some things to consider:

  • The 'why' of it all: Sometimes it's possible to figure out the reason behind someone's emotional behaviour. Personal problems or issues never justify treating someone badly, but understanding the reason he acts the way he does may help you shield some of the blame that's been flying your way. He may be going through a tough time personally, or someone higher up in the company is bullying him in the same way. Maybe he's just very insecure or unable to take responsibility for his own actions.
  • Who's involved?: If your boss is doing this with everyone, at least you can know that it isn't personal and you're probably doing a good job even though it's not being acknowledged. If it's obvious that your boss is picking on you alone, I would try asking something like "I notice that the way I do things tend to upset you, and I would like to know if there is anything in my approach that is causing this. If  I am offending you in some personal way I would like to ensure it doesn't happen again, because I really want to deliver on what's required of me and work well in our team". Show that both the job and the relationship are important to you. If he still yells at you after that, at least you tried.
  • Anything you can do?: Even though your boss may be very unpredictable (or just plain scary), have you thought about things you can try from your side to strengthen the relationship? Instead of becoming his sworn enemy at the office, have you tried getting to know him and understand his management style? Whether this works or not, you will be able to say with complete confidence that you tried reaching out and strengthening the relationship. Even if he is 20 years your senior, showing that you care about him as a person might just build enough trust between you to change the way he has been treating you.
  • Talk to HR: Yes you really can (and should) talk to Human Resources if this problem is serious and affecting people's ability to do their jobs in peace. This way you won't need to face it alone and they may be able to help with finding a solution that benefits all the parties involved.
  • It could be worse: I know this doesn't solve your problem, but realising that you are not the only person in the world with a horrible boss may help take the edge off a little. You may not be stuck in this particular team or company for too long, so if you need to bite down for a while longer it helps to know that it could have been worse. Check out these posts I found: 10 Signs that You Have a Bad Boss, How to Deal with a Horrible BossMy Bad Boss Contest (get ready to laugh a little for this last one!).

In the end you do need to decide if it's worth staying in your team or company when there is nothing more to do and no one that can help. If your stress levels are over the roof and you are fearing for your life every day, it may be time for a fresh start. After all, you cannot be responsible for anyone else's behaviour but your own.

November 16, 2011

improving your personal brand at work

How do your co-workers see you? What is the first thing that comes to mind when they talk about you? What are you known for around the office? Every company has to decide what they would like their corporate brand to look/feel/sound like, why not try it on a personal level? While companies brand themselves using logos, business cards and advertisements, you can brand yourself by fine tuning your behavior and appearance.

Guys and girls, to read the rest of this post, you can view it on Classy Career Girl's career site (one of my personal favorites!) where I contributed as a guest writer today! Continue reading...

November 14, 2011

lovely lunchbox ideas

Happy Monday everyone! It's a new week with new challenges and opportunities, so let's have a look at another small thing you can do to change your efficiency and satisfaction at work for the better.

We all know that eating a balanced diet and snacking on healthy things during the day can improve our concentration and productivity at work, while also lifting our moods. I also find that having your lunch away from my desk is often necessary in order to avoid staring at your screen for eight hours straight - very hard for me to do, but I always feel refreshed afterwards.

But I'm so tired of the same old boring lunch every day, so I've found some sites to give us a little lunchbox inspiration:

Happy snacking!

November 11, 2011

doing what you do best at work everyday?

One of the items measuring employee engagement in the Gallup Q12 survey reads: At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. I'm sure deep down we all know that this will affect how we feel about our jobs, but have you actually thought about answering this question for the current position or line of work you are in? Would you agree? Strongly agree? Maybe even strongly disagree? More importantly, do you know what it is you do best??

After doing several personality/interest/aptitude tests (and lending my ears to way too many opinions), I have come back to believing two simple truths:
  1. Things that I have loved doing since my childhood are probably indicators of my natural strengths. I have always been a social butterfly. I have loved giving advice and helping friends solve their problems since I can remember. I have also loved writing and being creative since primary school, and I excelled in my language subjects. So after all this time wondering how I should be advancing in my professional development, I have returned to focusing on these natural strengths. Now I'm writing my own career blog (loving every creative minute of it) and I'm working in HR (relishing in all things human and social at the office). Most importantly I'm creating my own career path instead of copying someone else's.
  2. Trying to succeed at things I'm not strong in is definitely possible, but bound to be exhausting and/or frustrating. I recently decided to further my studies in 2012, and had to choose a major. My initial choice was to do an MBA, based on the fact that I wanted to up my business savvy. But I have no natural interest or feel for economics, and so I was trying to fix what I believed to be wrong with me. I'm sure I could have fought my way through the economics and management accounting, but it would have cost me a truck-load of blood, sweat and tears as I would be going against my natural grain. So when thinking back to the things that come naturally to me, I realised that I would excel in a position where I can work with people, give advice and think strategically. That's when I decided to enroll for a Professional/Management Coaching programme in stead, it felt like a big old weight falling off my shoulders .
I do realise that we all do not have the luxury or opportunity to be picky about career choices and qualifications, and some of the things we might be good at do not translate into the salaries we need. Companies also don't have the luxury to customize each individual's role to fit him/her like a glove. But even if it might be a novel idea, I do believe it to be a very important factor to consider when you do decide which field to specialize in.

Do you know what your natural strengths are? Why not check out the StrengthsFinder2.0 assessment if you are looking for a way to identify them.

November 9, 2011

summer wardrobe at the office

For those of us in the southern hemisphere it's time to put away the jerseys, coats and scarfs because summer is on it's way. I have had my share of layering for this season so I am really looking forward to making the switch!

But rising temperatures mean less clothes, so it's a good idea to check out a few guidelines for summer dress code in order to avoid controversy at your office ☺. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Location of your office: It gets really hot where I live and work. I am thankful each morning to arrive at work because we have air conditioning at the office, and this makes it a little easier to dress appropriately. But many companies don't have that luxury. If you work in unbearable heat, I'm not sure if it's possible to cover up as much, but I would still try to aim for a look that doesn't show too much skin around your neckline, and doesn't expose your waist or thighs.
  • Client facing or not?: This is probably the most important factor to consider because it has a direct impact on your credibility and your employer's image. Looking sloppy or under-dressed when dealing with customers might prompt them to consider another supplier, as they might not trust your professional opinion as much. You should always aim to send the message that you take yourself and your job seriously.
  • Employer's dress code: Rules are rules, and if your employer has taken the time to write them down, they count for everyone. Some workplaces allow a casual dress code every day, while others allow jeans on Fridays only. Have you had a look at your employer's dress code? Do you want to be known as the one who always sees how far she can stretch the rules?
  • Your personal brand: Dressing inappropriately or sloppy will do damage to people's opinion of you at work - guaranteed! Also, if you are allowed to dress casually on a Friday, have you thought of using this opportunity to distinguish yourself by adding a bit of professionalism to your casual outfit? A button-down shirt or professional top with your jeans, chinos instead of worn-out jeans, shiny pumps instead of athletic shoes? Even if not required, it shows that you would like to look well groomed and ready for business even on casual Friday. Have you tried this? Noticed how people treat you differently?

Like I mentioned in a previous post, there are several sites and blogs that may help you determine what would be appropriate in an office setting, and if you feel totally clueless about what suits you it might even be worth booking a session with an image consultant.

I found this wardrobe basics checklist for those of you who would like to use a basic guide when building your repertoire.

November 7, 2011

do you have the tools you need to do your job?

I remember one of my first jobs in an office environment, where I was required to fax documents to our head office on a regular basis. Pretty basic right? Think again. The equipment in my office didn't include a fax machine or scanner, only a printer from an undetermined prehistoric era. So I spent time every day driving to the nearest Xerox shop, standing in line, paying with my own money, waiting for the fax to deliver after several failed attempts, driving back, and claiming my minuscule expense - all while trying to look professional. Sounds like fun, right?

This was frustrating for me on two levels:
  • Personally: I'm pretty savvy with a computer and I love technology, so I found it gruelling to be relying on faxes in the hi-tech world we live and work in. I like getting things done, and quickly too. It also cost me money out of my own pocket to drive around and pay for this, and only being reimbursed at the end of the month.
  • Professionally: How many hours of my week were spent waiting in that Xerox shop? Minutes ticking away every day with no real work being done and no profit being made. I may have been a first-timer, but I was feeling terribly inefficient and I knew that this was not the way to do business.

As this was something I didn't have much control over, I did try pleading with my boss to supply a print/scan/fax machine in order for me to do my job properly. Funny thing is that I had to wait a month for his answer: "When you start making some real money, we can think about getting more gadgets for your office". Hmpf, please stop asking me to send faxes then...

I don't need to tell you that this had a very negative effect on my commitment towards my job and my boss. I was young and inexperienced and I needed a job, so I tried going with it for a while. Even though this wasn't my responsibility I did try to be flexible and work with what I had, but you can only spend so much of your time trying to fix something that isn't yours to fix. Regardless of the other resources available I was not able to do my job properly.

According to Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey, this is another foundational requirement for employees to feel engaged and positive about their jobs, and I am a believer after experiencing the opposite for myself. This experience has taught me to consider available resources before accepting just any new position in the future, and also to be grateful if I do work for an employer who supplies everything I need to do my job.

If you have all the tools you need at work, you can spend your energy doing what you're paid to do AND MORE. I don't think I'll ever take resources and tools for granted again after that first experience. Any others who had to learn this the hard way?

November 4, 2011

I won, I won!!

I won a competition! Yeh! The prize: a book! Yeh?

It's no trip to Spain (maybe next time), but it's very relevant to my blog and I am always happy to add a free book to my reading list!

How did I win it? One of the magazines I keep my eyes on is HR Future. I recently answered a question posted in the magazine, indicating why I would recommend the magazine to others. I remember my manager recommending it to me some time ago, and my answer was that the content is continuously changing my old school academic view of HR into a more practical and innovative one. I had completely forgotten that I entered, and received the notification out of the blue the other day ☺.

The book I won is called Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success (click to see the website and video). It will be the first book I read on this topic, and I'm hoping it's a hit so I can share it with all my eager readers. It's a New York Times best seller, and what interests me is the fact that it focuses on more than just career success.

I'll give you an update as soon as I've read it. So many books, so little time and only one set of eyes...

Have any of you read this book?

November 2, 2011

do you know what is expected of you at work?

When I started my first job, I had no idea what a job description should look like. In fact, I was naive enough to accept a position without seeing a proper description .Yes, it's true, I was swept away by what my very charismatic new manager told me in the hope that it would appear on paper soon after. I only received a written description a month after my start date.

Needless to say, I didn't enjoy my first job and it didn't last very long.

Not having a clear description of what is expected from your employer has been proven to be one of the fundamental elements that affect your engagement negatively (Gallup's Q12 Employee Engagement Survey). And besides influencing your attitude when going to work each day, if you don't know what is required for you to move up in your current role, you might be wasting your efforts on the wrong things.

The moment I moved into a new position where I knew exactly what was expected of me, I was free to start setting goals and performing well. So when choosing a new job or evaluating the position you're currently in, what are the things to look for? See if you can identify these categories in your position:

  • Duties & Responsibilities: These are the duties listed on your job description, describing what your tasks will look like on a daily basis: typing meeting minutes, running a certain project etc. When was the last time you reviewed yours? If it's outdated or vague, it might be a good idea discussing it with your manager in order to better allign it with your actual daily routine.
  • Key Performance Areas: KPA's are the measures by which your performance will be rated by your employer. Do you have an indication of what yours are? These can be things like meeting certain deadlines, achieving specified goals. Knowing which KPA's you'll be scored on (and how frequently) helps you focus your daily efforts correctly, and not spend all your energy on things that don't carry any weight in the eyes of your employer.
  • Corporate Values: These are typically found in your office policy or employee handbook, and apply to everyone regardless their position. Does your company have one of these? Every company's policy will look different, and some won't even take the time to put one in writing. It indicates which kind of behaviour will (or will not) be tolerated at the work place, focusing on topics like: confidentiality, non-smoking, relationships between colleagues etc. Although these aren't related to your job description, they draw clear boundaries within which you will need to operate on a daily basis.
  • Assignments from your Manager: These are not always communicated in writing and may cause a lot of frustration if you are getting vague requirements or contradicting assignments from the same source. Some managers will ask for a certain outcome and allow you to chose your own process, while others enjoy dictating your every step. Some struggle to express what it is they want altogether. A lot of this frustration may be relieved if you and your manager are able to understand the differences and/or similarities in the way you communicate. I tend to be distracted easily, so taking notes helps me think through the how's and the when's of an assignment while receiving it, guiding our discussion and eliminating confusion. Reading up on management styles even though you are the one being managed is also not a bad idea, as it may help you diagnose the situation correctly.

Any of you feeling confused about what is expected of you from your employer? Any plans for rescuing the situation?